Saturday, July 14, 2012

Teaching and Mentoring Young Playwrights in Richmond

The last few weeks have been really, really amazing.  I've been teaching and mentoring young playwrights in the SPARC: New Voices for the Theater program in Richmond, Virginia.

Being playwright-in-residence at New Voices meant spending a week teaching the fundamentals of playwriting, and then moving to a more dramaturgical role in week two, as the eight winning playwrights were paired with directors and actors, and began rehearsals of their winning plays.  It all culminated with beautifully staged readings of the plays with friends, family and members of the community in attendance.
The eight winning playwrights of SPARC: New Voices for the Theater 2012!
Having six hours a day, for five days in a row, to talk about how plays work was a great gift.  We had so much fun!  All eight of the student playwrights were smart, creative and game.  I tried to mix things up with group exercises, paired work, physical activities, writing prompts, and sharing work.  I used improv as a writing tool more than I ever have before to teach playwriting.  The kids really took to it, and I felt like it gave us a chance to try out some of the things we were talking about in class -- goals and objectives, obstacles and tactics, action and dialogue, negotiation over props, theater magic...  All the fun stuff!  It also reinforced something I believe strongly -- that plays are about action, not just two dimensional words on a page, but three dimensional human beings crashing into each other in beautiful and complicated ways in the living, breathing world of the stage.  We studied by day, and by night, they worked on rewriting their own one-act plays.

The Richmond theater community gave their hearts and their talent to this program, with some of the best directors and actors in town working tirelessly with these young writers -- letting them be the playwright in the rehearsal room for the very first time.  (What joy, seeing them see their plays come to life in hands of talented actors!)  The plays ranged from romantic comedies to tragedies, and from the deeply psychological to the absurd to the delightfully funny.

I truly hope that I have more opportunities to teach in the year ahead.  Teaching playwriting -- being able to share what I love so much with others -- was a great gift.  But it will be hard to beat the experience I had with New Voices.  It's an extraordinary program -- well organized and inspirationally led by Laine Satterfield.  And we had an extraordinary bunch of kids.

Writing my closing speech -- and saying goodbye to the kids -- made me cry.  What a lovely couple of weeks, New Voices!  Thank you so much!

No comments: